Williamsburg Hill is the highest point in Shelby County, Illinois and is accessible by 1100 E, a road that horseshoes around the tiny community of Cold Spring. Visitors can pick up 1100 E just west of Tower Hill on Route 16, and it will lead them straight to the hill and its cemetery. Due to its unsavory reputation, this is a place many locals avoid.
As far as I can tell, Troy Taylor was the first person to write extensively on the strange legends of Ridge Cemetery and Williamsburg Hill. He included them in a number of books, including Haunted Illinois (2001), Haunted Decatur Revisited (2000), and Beyond the Grave (2001).
As Taylor explained, the hill that Ridge Cemetery occupies once also sheltered a town, one of the many that sprung up and disappeared in nineteenth-century Illinois. Williamsburg, as it was known, was platted in 1839 by two men, Thomas Williams and William Horsman. Many Horsmans can be found buried in Ridge Cemetery to this very day. The village disappeared in the 1880s as the railroad bypassed its inconvenient location.
The legends surrounding Ridge Cemetery involve occult rituals, spook lights, and the ghost of an old man who disappears upon approach. “There is little evidence to suggest these stories are true,” Taylor wrote, “but once such rumors get started, they are hard to stop.”
In Haunted Decatur Revisited, he reported two chilling stories that a woman who lived on the hill had related to him. When she was a young girl visiting a relative’s grave with her father, she said, she had apparently witnessed a phantom funeral in broad daylight.
Years later, when she had a daughter of her own, her daughter developed an imaginary friend named “shadow” and had once told her that “the people in the ground” wanted her to “come and stay with them.” Certainly a disconcerting episode.
Animal mutilations have also been reported in and around Ridge Cemetery, accentuated by occult trappings. One young man from the area told me in confidence that he had personally witnessed such an event, but that it was more like the actions of bored teenagers than serious occultists.
I was unable to independently verify any of Troy Taylor’s information, although the Shelby County Genealogical Society would more than likely contain much of the same information.
In Chasing Shadows, Larry Wilson further explored strange phenomenon experienced on the hill, including encounters with panthers or big cats. Other tales include unexplained noises, cattle mutilations, and the apparitions of an old man and woman dressed in black. Cemetery caretakers sometimes refuse to work in Ridge Cemetery due to feelings of being watched and followed.
With its secluded location and remarkable past, Williamsburg Hill is among the more mysterious places in central Illinois.
- Taylor, Troy. Haunted Decatur Revisited: Ghostly Tales from the Haunted Heartland of Illinois. Alton: Whitechapel Productions Press, 2000.
- ________. Haunted Illinois: Travel Guide to the History and Hauntings of the Prairie State. Alton: Whitechapel Productions Press, 2004.
- ________. Weird Illinois: Your Travel Guide to Illinois’ Local Legends and Best Kept Secrets. New York: Sterling Publishing, 2005.
- Wilson, Larry. Chasing Shadows: Investigating the Paranormal in Illinois, Missouri, and Iowa. Rockford: Black Oak Media, 2011.